Lafayette school board cuts funds for administrative post

The Lafayette Parish School Board voted 5-4 late Wednesday to eliminate about $76,000 intended to fund a new special assistant to the superintendent position, but the action did not eliminate the job, Superintendent Pat Cooper said following the board’s Wednesday meeting.

“They removed that (money) out of that line item. He’ll continue to work and I’ll continue to pay him,” Cooper said.

The board’s action on the funding came about 10 p.m. Wednesday.

The board approved creating the position in February 2012. Cooper recommended creating the position to advise on facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation issues.

In March 2012, the board approved hiring Thad Welch for the job. Welch previously worked with Cooper in McComb, Miss., and has 17 years of relevant supervisory experience and out-scored other applicants who interviewed for the position, according to human resources records. .

However, Welch lacks a high school diploma — which is the minimum requirement in the job description. Welch has since started working toward his GED.

Board member Tehmi Chassion has led the debate over the position since the board’s Jan. 9 meeting when he first questioned the educational requirement and the employee’s qualifications.

However, was no debate or discussion prior to the Wednesday night’s vote, with Chassion, Greg Awbrey, Mark Allen Babineaux, Tommy Angelle and Rae Trahan voting to eliminate funding for the position. Board members Mark Cockerham, Kermit Bouillon, Shelton Cobb and Hunter Beasley voted against the motion.

The board voted last month to ask the state Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on its authority over decisions related to the hiring, which occurred before July 1, 2012, when a state law took effect transferring hiring and firing authority from school boards to superintendents. The board is still awaiting a response.

Chassion said after Wednesday’s board meeting that he continued to push the issue because he believes policy was violated.

“In this economic climate, it’s the only way as a board member I can make sure board policy is being followed,” Chassion said.

Cooper has maintained that policy wasn’t violated because policy allows the district to consider applicants’ overall qualifications. Cooper continued to defend Welch’s job and performance Wednesday.

“He’s a valuable employee. I didn’t violate policy when I hired him,” Cooper said.